by Phil Stilton
TRENTON-Like everything in life, nothing stays the same forever. Aspects of society come and go. Some become prominent and mainstream while others fade away into obscurity. Yet, others evolve to adapt to the changing world around them.
One of those things that have changed as the world has changed has been how the public receives public notices.
In early Colonial America, town criers and bellman were officers of the courts who shouted court bulletins and notices in high traffic public areas of a town. These sharp dressed officers would walk the streets of the city ringing a bell, shouting “Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear Ye” to the denizens of the community.
For almost two hundred years, the town crier was how the governing bodies relayed their messages to the public.
In the mid 1800’s governing bodies in more rural and remote areas began using the nation’s fledgling newspapers to disseminate public notices. Not every town had a newspaper and not everyone knew how to read. By the 1800’s most northern white men knew how to read, but just around 50% of southern men could read. Few black man of the era could read, so town criers and newspaper public notices shared the spotlight.
Through the early 1900’s some cities in America still employed town criers, but as populations grew the town crier became obsolete and the courts eventually shifted their notices to the newspapers. By the time the last town crier lost their job, Americans got their public notices through newspapers.
The media did not evolve much in the 20th century to allow any other practical forms of disseminating public notices. Yes, radio and the television came along, but stations were limited to the bigger cities for decades and public notices just never took off on tv, a purely visual and audial experience. Sure, some cable companies used to run bulletins for the towns, but who really read them when there wasn’t two or more inches of snow on the ground?
Long after the last town crier argued that the switch to newspaper was an attack on their trade, the Internet appeared.
In the early to mid 1990’s Americans began discovering the internet. Today, 84.2% of Americans have access to the internet. 23% of Americans subscribe to a newspaper.
This week, New Jersey legislators are prepared to retire the newspapers as the town criers of the state and move the government messaging to the internet.
Society changes. I’m sure the town criers didn’t want to lose their jobs. After all, a small part of the population still preferred to get their public notices from the local town crier. It must have been a difficult and contentious times.
It’s not sure if town criers united to fight the shift, but after two hundred years, we’re confident the system that worked through colonial times and the industrial revolution were a valid replacement.
I’m also sure the online publication of public notices will also stand the test of time when history moves on to the next chapter…whether that’s neuro-news implants installed by the government or some kind of instant server to brain data transfer system.
There will always be a few people who prefer to get their public notices in 4 point walls of text in a remote section of the newspaper, just as there will eventually be those who prefer to get their news from a computer when those new fangled neural implants work just fine.